FEATURE: 21st Century Breakdown: Green Day’s Last of the American Girls: The Punk Band’s Celebration of Rebel Girls…Without the Girls?




21st Century Breakdown: Green Day’s Last of the American Girls


IMAGE CREDIT: @GreenDay/Frank Caruso 

The Punk Band’s Celebration of Rebel Girls…Without the Girls?


IT is always great seeing musicians venture into new territory...

but, in the case of Green Day, their debut literary/graphic novel outing has led to division. On 29th October, Green Day bring out Last of the American Girls. From its cover, you can see it is a celebration of the riot girls and all-American warriors. This article talks about some of the issues that have arisen.

Written by bandmates Billie Joe ArmstrongMike Dirnt and Tré Cool, it marks their debut book. However, the trio’s choice of male illustrator in Frank Caruso to bring the picture book to life is being scrutinized.

While many are echoing these sentiments, fans have come to the defense of the band, saying that the book doesn’t act as a how-to guide for women to live, but rather an illustrated version of the 21st Century Breakdown track”.

Green Day have stated how the book (I shall refer to it as such although it is a graphic novel) is an illustration of their song, Last of the American Girls, rather than an instruction manual telling women how to live their lives. Social media has been divided regarding Green Day and their intentions. We have not been treated to many extracts and content but the fact that the band hired a male illustrator to design the images has left many angry. One can ask them whether they consulted any female illustrators or whether Caruoso is a close friend of theirs. In any case, there has been this debate raging.

It is, essentially, an illustration of a song; a sort of musical graphic novel as opposed anything regarding telling women how to act. I do think that it is good there is a book out in the world like this and the fact that the band produced it should not be dismissed. Some ask whether a male Punk band are the right people to discuss feminist, empowerment and strong female role models. I think it is encouraging when anyone talks about these themes and we should not really overlook Green Day or question their motives. Even though Green Day did not want to patronise or mansplain anything, they have talked about the book being relevant in these times; a celebration of female empowerment and a celebration. Laura Snapes wrote an article for The Guardian regarding Green Day’s book and whether they were quite the right people to take on the job:

You can’t help but wonder if Green Day thought this through. Surely no self-respecting rebellious woman would buy a book about “female empowerment” by three washed-up punks. If only songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong could portray women as anything other than a random assembly of rabble-rousing tropes, including wearing makeup that looks “like graffiti on the walls of the heartland”, digging conspiracy theories and owning vinyl.

Armstrong’s manic punky dream girl is the nadir of publishing’s obsession with rebellious women. As the trend has proliferated, so the sharp edges of the women whose lives they document have been sanded down into vaguely aspirational #girlboss dross. It is also the nadir of Armstrong’s songwriting…


IMAGE CREDIT: Chris Bilheimer  

Although Green Day are not as progressive as some bands, they are not exactly misogynists. You cannot accuse them of lacking empathy and being against female empowerment. Their music has cast women in the role of the seduced and aroused but that is not equitable to them being sexist or boorish. Snapes looked at Green Day’s changing lyrical voice and whether this contradicted their aims regarding Last of the American Girls:

Green Day’s early work was surprisingly progressive, and rarely – especially for US pop-punk – overtly misogynist. But in recent years, fetishising, contemptuous and paternalistic language has soiled Armstrong’s lyrics: irresistible women tease him with their devilish ways; the titular figure from 2012’s Drama Queen is “old enough to bleed now”, and the video to that year’s Oh Love is inexplicably filled with barely clothed models”.

 I take issue with a number of things Snapes addressed. I do not think Green Day are washed up and, if they were, whether that would be relevant. One would not call Patti Smith washed up if she were to write a book like this. Green Day have not been making albums on the same level as Dookie and Nimrod lately but that is a natural career decline. They cannot be expected to keep on that level, considering Pop-Punk has changed and they have matured. It is unfair to attack their commercial standing and assume that a younger, fresher band should write such a book…

A lot of the response comments to the article focused on the fact that, whatever happens, they cannot win. Should men avoid tackling empowerment and feminism because they are men and it is not their fight? Should women only be the ones writing about it and, if men do contribute, is their popularity and relevance important? The book is a bit of fun and Green Day are entitled to write about subjects such as strong women and empowerment. They are not women, sure, but that is not to say they lack understanding and a progressive attitude. Regardless of what some of their songs portray, to suggest they are insincere and inauthentic is a bit of an insult. I love Green Day’s music and, whilst they are not as progressive and positive regarding women as they could be, they are not exactly your belching and sexist band who is demeaning women at every turn! They are also not denying a female band from penning their own book. Rather than being motivated by greed or wanting to jump on a bandwagon, Green Day are coming at this from a good place. Of course men can and should write about female empowerment and, rather than talk about the right of men to do this, we should be looking at the quality and depth of the writing.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Green Day/PHOTO CREDIT: Nigel Crane/Redferns

Are the illustrations going to be quite sexist or too sexy? Is the storyline, such as it is, sticking close to the Last of the American Girls song (from 21st Century Breakdown). Are going to get a male’s-eye view of strong women and something that puts physical assets about spirit and emotional strength? Maybe women would be more sensitive and knowledgeable regarding the correct approach but there is a lot of condemnation and anger at Green Day’s feet before we have even seen the book. The only thing that I do agree with is the lack of female participation. I am not saying the band should have employed all women to illustrate and market their book but maybe hiring a female illustrator would at least give the designs and visual aspect greater reality and a different perspective. There is always going to be concerned reaction when men write about female empowerment without considering women in their team. I do think the argument is quite complex but, essentially, Green Day should have thought a little harder when it came to their illustrator and how some might perceive the decision to hire a man. Frank Caruso is a wonderful talent but how about the boys scouting graphic novels and books and looking for a female illustrator who would have, at least, helped diffuse some of the tension. Some questions Green Day’s motive and whether it is purely commercial. If they were short of a few dollars then they could have re-released all their material on vinyl or done a simple cash-in.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @timothypaulsmith_436580_sink/Unsplash

There are countless ways the band could have got some money in – one feels something like Last of the American Girls is a bit of a roundabout way of pulling in some bucks! When it comes to throwing a middle finger to politicians and kicking up a storm, Green Day are pretty good at it. They might not be as convincing and potent as Punk bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols but they have inspired a generation and released some truly fantastic albums. I do feel that their intentions are good and, at a time when there is a lot of sexism, we are not seeing many men respond. Surely it is a good a male band, any band, is doing this. What does it matter whether they are young, profitable and hip? Their current status and appeal is nothing to do with their promise as authors. I do feel Green Day’s experience and reputation means they will shift a lot more copies than if a younger band were spreadheading. They have been on the block for decades and I do feel like their first real outing into the literary world will be a success.  It is, as I say, all down to quality. Peel away all the other crap and insults and you need to judge something like Last of the American Girls on its substance and quality. If it appears like a book written by a committee or seems like a very lacklustre thing then people have the right to complain. I think it is great a male band want to celebrate female empowerment and involve themselves in the conversation.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Pinterest

In spite of what some rather dismissive journalists have written, one must judge Green Day on the material itself. The story and writing has to be sharp and true. If they infantilise or overly-sexualise women then that fights against what they are trying to represent. It is hard to get right but the band need to make sure what they have written sounds like it is coming from a female voice in a way. Some fear Green Day have written this rather condescending guide regarding women and how they should act. I do not think this is the case. I do hope that Last of the American Girls is an affectionate and respectful nod to strong women and rebel girls who want to kick ass. If it is done seriously and the band treats the subject matter with care then it will be a success. I feel a lot of people are worried it might be too cartoon-like or insincere. The dreaded impression of Green Day illustration generously-proportioned heroines who spout clichés and are seen as very one-dimensional, I guess, is a real worry. I know they have treated the subject with care and respect so, in a couple of weeks, we will get to see whether all the division that we’re hearing leads to positive reaction to Last of the American Girls. I think very few men are writing about female empowerment and that sort of thing so, surely, Green Day’s new foray is a good move that could lead to other male acts/musicians doing the same?!

 IMAGE CREDIT: Frank Maddocks

Those who state that Green Day have slipped on a banana skin by not employing any women does hold some weight. I have not seen as the credits for the book but I doubt there are many, if any, women on the publishing team or helping to promote the book. The fact that there is a male illustrator on the cover is the biggest sticking point – one I cannot really defend. The band had their reasons for hiring Caruso and it is not his fault at all. I do feel like it would have given Last of the American Girls a different voice and narrative if a woman had been chosen to illustrate. Maybe that was a mistake on their part but many people have been unkind towards the band, feeling they are ignoring women and blind to the irony. I do think that there needed to be women involved with the book but that is not the same as Green Day being ignorant and sexist. Men should be allowed to write about female icons and rebellious heroines. If we start questioning this sort of thing then surely it is holding back progress rather than helping to accelerate it? I do feel people need to give them a break on that front and, as I keep saying, judge Last of the American Girls on its words and quality. Away from their new literary venture, Green Day have been pretty busy. NME take up the story:

Meanwhile, Armstrong recently confirmed that he was at work on writing songs for the next Green Day album. This comes amid speculation of an anniversary tour in 2019, after the band revealed that they had been rehearsing classic albums ‘Dookie’ and ‘Insomniac’ in full.

The band are also working on a movie adaptation of their now seminal album ‘American Idiot”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

There is always going to be a certain amount of flack and criticism from journalists and social media when big artists take on something like this. I do wonder whether someone like Paul McCartney would have got anger aimed at him if he wanted to write a novel about a powerful female musician from the 1960s. I refute Laura Snapes’ line regarding Green Day’s purpose and relevance regarding being spokespeople for female independence. It has been years since they were riding the commercial wave and at the top of the tree but what does that have to do with literature and something non-musical? This is something completely fresh and, again, if a more current and popular artist had tried to write their version of Last of the American Girls then would they be subjected to the same sort of reaction?! I cannot reconcile the lack of female inclusion on the work and do feel they missed a real opportunity having a female illustrator. It shouldn’t dent the appeal of Last of the American Girls but I think the band, if they do another edition, need to think about hiring women on their team. Regardless, I do think it is a good step for the band to take and their hearts are in the right place. Rather than judge them and question their motivation, go out and get Last of the American Girls and judge it on its literary merits. If they can win the people over in that respect then they could open the door for many other men in music to…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @seteales/Unsplash

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